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What's Next in College Football Realignment and Expansion After Big 12 and Pac-12 Won't Partner or Merge

Pac-12 logo on field

The Pac-12 and Big 12 have ended discussions about a potential partnership or merger in the latest round of college football expansion and realignment. ESPN and CBS Sports both reported this story on Monday night, adding another layer to the uncertainty and future of both conferences and the overall landscape for college football. According to ESPN, a full merger between the two conferences had potentially the most value, but the Big 12 opted not to pursue any further moves or discussions with the Pac-12. Additionally, pooling of rights and scheduling were other avenues of discussion.

Although the Big 12 and Pac-12 won't partner or merger, this story is far from over. College football's landscape is being shaped and shifted by the pursuit of revenue, stability and the need to keep pace with the Big Ten and SEC. Also, every conference is going to look out for its own interests - not the greater good of the sport. With the Big Ten and SEC a clear step ahead of the other leagues, the other three Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12) are fighting to become the clear No. 3 in the pecking order.

With no partnership or merger coming for the Pac-12 and Big 12, what's next for the two conferences and college football? 

What's Next in College Football Realignment and Expansion After Big 12 and Pac-12 Won't Partner or Merge?

What's Next for the Big 12?

At Big 12 Media Days, new commissioner Brett Yormark indicated the conference was open for business and exploring options. Both of those terms could indicate moves in a lot of areas, but the drive for revenue and ways to increase value for television partners is a driving force in realignment and expansion. The Big 12's television deal ends after the 2024 season, so there's urgency to position the conference for more revenue. With that in mind, striking a blow to the Pac-12 and adding a couple of teams is certainly within the realm of possibility. Yormark isn't officially on the job until early August, but he's already been aggressive in discussions for the future of the conference. 

What could the Big 12 do next? Here are a few options for Yormark and the conference:

*Stay at 12 after Oklahoma and Texas go to the SEC. In an odd twist of fate, the Big 12 has some stability after no other conference wanted to pursue its teams last offseason, along with the solid additions of Houston, Cincinnati, BYU and UCF. Unless there's a clear uptick in money, adding just to add teams dilutes the value of revenue coming for 16/18 teams in the league.

*Expand to 16. This scenario sees the Big 12 land a knockout punch of the Pac-12 by adding Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado (welcome back) and Utah. Those four schools fit nicely into the Big 12 geographic footprint and would be solid overall additions.

*Expand to 18. If the Big 12 really wanted to finish off the Pac-12 and emerge as a stronger conference, it could add Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah, Oregon and Washington. That would leave California, Stanford, Oregon State and Washington State as the only teams the conference would not add from the Pac-12. For the Big 12 to do this, it would need a significant uptick in revenue to not dilute the return to its members. Is that possible in an 18-team league?

Related: Ranking All 131 College Football Teams for 2022

What's Next for the Pac-12

It's no secret the future of the Pac-12 is unsettled with USC and UCLA set to join the Big Ten in 2024. With those two teams departing, the Pac-12 will lose a significant chunk of cash for its media rights deal - potentially as much as $200 million a season according to some reports - as the current one expires after the '23 season. There's no way to replace the value of the USC and UCLA brands, as well as the Los Angeles television market for Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff.

With a Big 12 partnership off the table (at least for now), what can the Pac-12 do to survive? In addition to following our five-step plan from earlier this offseason, these options are the most likely for the Pac-12:

*Convince 10 teams to stay and fight off the Big 12: In this scenario, the Pac-12 simply assumes the old Big 12 position as a 10-team league. The late-night television windows the Pac-12 provides certainly has value to television partners, and the conference could pitch some short-term stability (and potentially equal or better) television revenue compared to the Big 12. Although the loss of USC and UCLA is significant, dropping to 10 instead of going to 12 won't dilute the revenue any further. Although unequal revenue sharing isn't popular, perhaps that's something the Pac-12 could pitch as a way to hold things together for now.

*Expand to 12: In any realignment or expansion discussion, television partners will play a huge role in where teams end up. Can the Pac-12 and its partners convince some of the Big 12 teams - TCU, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Houston or Kansas - to come to the West Coast? If those Big 12 teams are set on not moving, the next options are teams from the Mountain West. San Diego State makes the most sense as candidate No. 11, with Boise State, Fresno State, UNLV or SMU filling in at No. 12. 

*Pursue a partnership with the ACC: This is essentially the Alliance Part 2. The ACC needs more revenue, while the Pac-12 wants to prevent a complete rush of teams joining the Big 12. Is there a way for these two conferences to work together? It seems unlikely this would result in a massive windfall of cash for either conference. However, perhaps it provides some short-term stability, as well as a guarantee to partner on a package of non-conference games. 

What to Watch and What Might be Next

*The Pac-12 is in a 30-day window of exclusive negotiations with television partners for a future deal on media rights. Will there be clarity about the league and which members are interested in sticking around by early August?

*Which conference can provide the better $$$ and stability? That's the pitch the Big 12 and Pac-12 will both be making to teams in the near future. 

* The Wild-Card Domino: What happens if Notre Dame (unlikely) decides to join a conference? What happens if the ACC decides to expand to add Pac-12 teams?

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